More Old Leeds On Film – And Big, Big News

The old film footage of Leeds that I posted last week proved very popular – astonishingly so. It certainly sent me scurrying around to discover more from 1899, the time of The Leaden Heart (which is published in the UK next week, as you probably know by now).

But before that, I have two big pieces of new. I mean, really BIG. The first is that I’m really proud to have had my first interview in a national daily newspaper, the Morning Star. I hope you’ll read it right here. Or, if you prefer…here it is.


On to the films.

I did manage to turn up a couple of pieces. The first one, seemingly filmed around what would become City Square, might be slow, but it’s worthwhile to see all the carts and wagons. Almost everything relied on horses. That would change, and eventually that change would seem rapid, almost overnight. But for the next 10-15 years, a motor car or motor bus on the road would remain a rarity.

The real gem of the pair, though, is this piece about the Leeds fire Brigade. They were still part of the police in those days – Tom Harper’s old friend and colleague Billy Reed had become a fireman before moving to Whitby to be Police Inspector there – although the uniform was quite different. It’s glorious to see the engine dashing out of the headquarters on Park Row, with the children running behind.

The most interesting part comes a little later, however, the procession of men with their sandwich boards, sent out to advertise performances at three and eight pm. The Sheldon at the top of each board meant the board itself belonged to Edward Sheldon, one of the first great advertising contractors. Sandwich boards were a common form of advertising in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. Take a look at the mens’ faces. There’s no pleasure, no joy to be seen there. It was the kind of job a man took when there was nothing else he could get, the work of desperation. Look again, and that resignation is right there in their eyes. It transmits itself across the years.

Also of interest is this image of Albion Place at the junction of Albion Street, courtesy of Anna Goodridge at the Leeds Library. It shows the shop of Beck and Inchbold, Stationers on the corner. The shop in a jeweller now. There’s also an invoice, with a telephone number – 140 – an indication of just how new the service still was back then. Like the motor car, like moving pictures, the telephone was progress as Leeds approached the 20th century.

It was still a city of industry, but everything was changing. That’s what I’ve tried to capture in this book. New crimes, ready for a new century.

And with that, it’s time for the second massive piece of news. Even as this book comes out, I can tell you that the sequel, the eight Tom Harper book, will come out at the end of March 2020. It’s called Rusted Souls, and it’s set in 1908, against the backdrop of the so-called Suffragette Riot of October 10, when the Prime Minister visited Leeds. It will also mark 10 years of my publishing novels set in this glorious place.

But meanwhile….

The Leaden Heart. It’s a world of Victorian Industrial Noir. Try it. Out March 29.

An Extract From The Leaden Heart

It’s three weeks  (and two days) until The Leaden Heart is published in the UK. A month after that and it’ll be available everywhere on ebook.

Not long at all.

Of course I want you to feel full of anticipation. So here’s a snippet to whet your appetite. And remember, the cheapest places to pre-order are Hive and Speedy Hen, and both offer free postage.

Thank you…enjoy.

And don’t forget the book trailer..


Leeds, 1899

‘The Smiths,’ Reed began.

‘I’ve never come across them before,’ Harper said. ‘But I want a long talk with them now.’

This was Tom’s patch, Billy thought. He was supposed to know what was going on. That was his job.

‘Let’s talk to Hester,’ he said. ‘She might be able to tell us something.’

But the blind was down on the shop door. No notice to announce a closing. Reed peered through the window and drew in his breath.

‘What is it?’

‘The shop’s a mess. Things strewn all over the floor. I’ll go in the back way,’ Reed said.

Through the ginnel and into the yard. He tapped on the door. No answer, but the knob turned in his hand.

‘Hester?’ he said quietly. She wasn’t in the office; he climbed the stairs. The door to the flat was open. No one in the living room or kitchen. He heard a quiet cry and stiffened, waiting until it came again. The bedroom.

The curtains were closed, the room stifling in the heat. He could make out her shape, lying on the bed.

‘Hester, it’s Billy. What’s happened?’

She turned her head. There was just enough light to make out the bruises on her face.

‘What’s been going on?’ he asked, but she looked at him with empty eyes.

Downstairs, he unlocked the front door.

‘You’d better come in, Tom. This has become real police business.’


It took two cups of tea to draw out the story. Harper listened, letting Billy ask the questions. He was the brother-in-law. Even if she barely knew him, they were related.

‘Two men came in,’ she said. Her voice was shaky and frightened. ‘It was just after half-past nine, I remember the church bell ringing. One of them pulled down the blind on the door and locked it.’

‘What did you do?’ Reed asked quietly. He sat on the other side of the table, holding her hands.

‘I asked what they thought they were doing. They said they owned the place and wanted me out by Saturday. One of them started kicking things over. When I told him to stop, the other one hit me.’ She lifted her fingers to her face.

‘What else did they say?’

‘If anything of mine was still here on Saturday night, they’d put it out on the pavement.’ She lifted her head, looking from one of them to the other. ‘And if I tried to stop them, it would be worse for me. Then he hit me again and again, and they left. I…’ The words faded and she sobbed again. ‘I came up here. I didn’t want anyone to see. Not like this, right after the funeral.’

‘I’ll make sure the beat constable keeps a close eye on the shop,’ Harper promised. ‘What did the men look like?’

‘Big, the pair of them. They could have been brothers. Both had dark hair, parted in the middle.’ She closed her eyes. ‘I won’t ever be able to forget them.’

Could have been brothers. Billy looked at Harper. A small nod.

‘How old do you think they were?’ Reed tried to coax out the information gently.

‘I don’t know. Not very.’ Her voice wavered as she pictured them. ‘Thirty? Somewhere round there. The one who hit me was smiling when he did it.’

She looked drained. Her husband’s death had left her with nothing inside. No reserves. Now this. The men had picked their time well. Threats and a beating when she was at her lowest.

‘Is your rent paid?  Harper asked.

‘Until the end of the month. Charlie took care of it before he….’ She couldn’t bring herself to say it. Everything was too raw, just waiting beneath the surface ‘It’s in the rent book.’

‘We’ll make sure they can’t do anything.’

Billy could see Tom had more questions, dozens of them. He made a small gesture with his fingers: let them wait.

‘I’ll stay here,’ Reed told him. ‘Clean everything up and make sure she’s fine.’



The Leaden Heart On Tour (And A Video)

32 days…just over four weeks and The Leaden Heart will be leaping out of the publisher’s hands and into the shops.

It’s the seventh Tom Harper book. Over the course of the series he’s risen from Detective Inspector to Detective Superintendent, in charge of ‘A’ Division, Leeds City Police, based at Millgarth. It’s 1899, and that promotion happened four years earlier, but he’s still the same Tom. He and Annabelle still live at the Victoria public house in Sheepscar, which she owns. She’s two years into a term as Poor Law Guardian, very involved in her work.

But Tom’s life is about to undergo seismic changes, when his old colleague Billy Reed telephones from Whitby. His brother has died, he’s coming to Leeds and needs a place to stay for a few days.

Going through his brother’s papers, Billy discovers more than he wanted to know. And Tom Harper learns that crimes have been going on in Leeds that he never even knew about. As he tries to put an end to it, the violence becomes ever more brutal.

That’s the essence, and I’ve put together a video trailer. I think it gives some of the atmosphere of the novel and the time…

The Leaden Heart will be available for reviewers and bloggers on NetGalley from the beginning of March. If you’re on there, please request a copy (or drop me a line if you need help).

You can pre-order on Amazon, although both Speedy Hen and Hive are much cheaper and don’t charge postage. And the ebook will be available globally from May 1.

Finally…The Leaden Heart is going on tour over the next couple of months. These are the dates and it looks as if there may be more to come. If you can, why not come along? All the events are free….no tour tee shirts I’m afraid – but there will be merchandise (books!)

Thursday, March 7, 2019, 1:10pm-1:50pm, Holy Trinity Church, Boar Lane, Leeds. Part of Leeds Literature Festival.

Saturday, May 11, Leeds Central Library, (time tbc) #foundfiction festival.

Thursday, May 16, 2019, the Leeds Library, Commercial St., Leeds, 6.30-8pm. In conversation with Candace Robb and Sara Porter (editor, Severn House)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019, De Grey Lecture Theatre, York St. John’s University 6-8pm. In conversation with Candace Robb and Kate Lyall Grant (publisher, Severn House)

Saturday, June 8, 2019, Yorkshire Archaelogical Society, Swarthmore  Education Centre, Clarendon Rd, Leeds, 11 am

large old paper or parchment background texture

Finding The Leaden Heart – The Tin God

Tom Harper is returning very soon – just over a month from now – but it’s impossible for me to look ahead to The Leaden Heart without glancing back at The Tin God.

the tin god 4a

I’m immensely proud of this book, not only for what it is, but the things it spawned. It celebrated real history, women being able to vote and stand as candidates in some local elections, an event that was the first real step on the road to the democracy we understand these days. And Annabelle Harper was at the heart of it, running to be a Poor Law Guardian for the Sheepscar ward. She was one of seven working-class women around the city running to be Guardians.

But there was a man who would do anything to keep women out of politics. Anything at all.

That didn’t stop Annabelle giving speeches – like this one.

The clues the man left at every scene were snippets of folk songs, so Harper consulted a local song collector, a real name named Frank Kidson. Out of this book came this article I wrote on the man:

And, of course, a playlist of music he’d collected that featured in the book.

For once, Annabelle really did take centre stage, even if it was Tom and his men who had to solve the crime. She had to try and be fearless, not easy when someone was trying to kill you.

The book was launched at an exhibition called The Vote Before The Vote. I was incredibly proud to be involved with it, celebrating those Victorian Leeds woman who were working for the vote and women’s rights before the Suffragettes appeared in 1903. I was even more proud that Annabelle had her own board as part of it. From fiction, she’d stepped directly into Leeds history. She’d have been over the moon.

That launch even sparked a film of its own, a glorious mystery from film maker Daisy Cale.

The book was a gift. It came to me in a flash when a historian friend – who actually curated The Vote exhibition – said ‘Why doesn’t Annabelle run for office?’ After that it was all so clear.

I did my only blog tour for the book, and it received some glowing reviews – and even a wonderful review in the Morning Star. These are some snippets or click here to read more.


It left me with a problem, however. How do I top it? Can I top it?

The Leaden Heart is my attempt at doing just that. You’ll be the only ones who can judge whether I succeed. And you can do it soon – even pre-order the book…


Finding The Leaden Heart – Gods Of Gold

As I’ve mentioned before – and I’ll be saying again and again – the end of March sees the publication of my new book, The Leaden Heart. It’s the seventh in the Tom Harper series, set in 1899, on the cusp of a brand-new century that is set to bring more changes that anyone could imagine.

In the weeks leading up to it seeing the light of day, time to revisit some of the book in the series…

Hard to believe that it’s only five years since Tom made his first appearance, met as he sprints down Briggate in pursuit of a thief. That’s where it all started, with Gods of Gold, set during the 1890 Leeds Gas Strike, which the union won in just three days, a rare example of the workers coming out on top.

gods of gold cover

It was strange that the book even appeared. I’d written six Richard Nottingham novels, and my publisher asked for something different. I’d always sworn I’d never set anything in Victorian times. But after that I read about the gas strike and I knew it ought to be celebrated. I received help from a strange source, a woman I’d met before, as I’d written a short story about her (Annabelle Atkinson and Mr. Grimshaw). She sat down next to me and said, ‘I was there, luv. I was the landlady at the Victoria. Why don’t you let me tell you about it?’

And so Gods of Gold came about. The title is from a poem by Tom Maguire, one of Leeds’ great unsung political figures, a man who did so much for the working classes here, only to die in poverty far, far too young. He’s buried at Beckett Street Cemetery.

photo (13)

Joanne Harris, the bestselling author (who has a new book coming called The Strawberry Thief) was generous enough to praise the novel: “A vibrant sense of living history, with strong, well-drawn characters…I loved it.”

gog crop

I made a trailer for the book, and here it is, all dusted off and YouTube shiny.

For the launch, I even had 10 tee shirts made, featuring the cover image. Remarkably, nine of them sold, and I still have the other in a drawer. And there were book marks.

Apart from Tom, the book also featured Detective Sergeant Billy Reed, who’s featured in every book so far, as well as Constable Ash, who’s grown since his introduction in uniform. But there was someone else, that woman who told me all about the strike. Annabelle Atkinson.

She’s Annabelle Harper now, of course, and has been for a long time. But they were still courting in those early days, and I had no idea how important a figure she’d become in the series, it’s emotional linchpin, in fact. As the series progresses, in many ways it’s become the story of the Harper family, how they change and age over the years, as much as they’re crime novels or historical fiction. Or why not all three? I ended up writing a play about Annabelle, called The Empress on the Corner, which was performed a few times. A couple of scenes were filmed, including this, which recounts how she and Tom first met. The Victorian pub is part of Abbey House Museum in Leeds – they were kind enough to let us film.

In those days I didn’t know the books would end up taking on such a life of their own. At the risk of sound pretentious, the series has taken on the feel of my magnum opus. Like any writer, I was fumbling in the dark, not sure where things were heading. I have a much clearer sense of things now. That doesn’t mean the people will do what I expect and hope. After all, they’ve gone their own way in the past six books.


2019…It’s Arrived.

Well, here we are, squarely in a new year. That means it’s time to look ahead, especially as I’m putting the final touches to what I hope will become the eighth Tom Harper novel – if the publisher wants to put it out, of course.

New beginnings.

Before any of that, however, the seventh Tom Harper book will be published at the end of March. Called The Leaden Heart, it’s set in 1899 in a Leeds that’s changing and pushing its way towards the 20th century. Here’s a very short extract:

Harper had just finished putting together the duty roster for August when the telephone rang, the line crackling harshly enough to hurt his bad ear.

‘Tom? It’s Billy. Billy Reed.’

Reed had been a good friend once, the sergeant to Harper’s inspector, until they fell out. Then he’d transferred to the fire brigade and been promoted. Two years ago he’d taken a job in Whitby, in charge of police there.

Annabelle and Elizabeth, Reed’s wife, were still close, exchanging regular letters. She ran a tea shop now, close to Whitby Market. Harper and his family had visited the Christmas before last. It had been a pleasant few days, but not the way it had once been. That would never return.

‘How are you?’

‘I’m fine,’ Reed answered quickly. ‘I hate to ask, but I could use a favour.’

‘What’s happened?’

‘My brother died, so I have to come back to Leeds for the funeral. I think you met him once.’

Long ago. Charlie? He thought he vaguely remembered the name. Thin and pale, with mousy hair and a waxed moustache.

‘I’m sorry, Billy.’

‘We were never that close, but…’

Of course. It was family. Harper understood.

‘Do you need somewhere to stay? Is Elizabeth coming with you?’

‘If you don’t mind. He lived in Harehills and the Victoria’s close. It’ll only be for a few days, if that’s all right. Elizabeth is run off her feet at the tea room. Whitby’s full of holidaymakers and the tea room is packed every day. Besides, she never really knew him.’

They had an empty attic room at the pub. It wasn’t much, but the bed was comfortable.

‘Of course. You know you’ll be welcome, as long as you need,’ Harper said. ‘When are you arriving?’

‘This afternoon. The telegram only came an hour ago.’

‘We’ll expect you.’

He lowered the receiver, picked it up again and asked the operator for the Victoria. They’d had a telephone installed at the beginning of the year. Between his rank and Annabelle’s post as Guardian, he hadn’t been able to fight the idea any longer.

She picked up on the third ring, listening as he explained.

‘I’ll air it out for him.’

the leaden heart revised


You can pre-order the book already. The cheapest price seems to be here, with free postage in the UK, although the company seems to have mixed reviews. Here is slightly more expensive, but also has free shipping and is highly-rated.

I also seem to be quite busy with events this year, and maybe more to add to that list. I’m not entirely certain how that’s happened, but they’ll all be fun, especially the two with my good friend Candace Robb and editors from the publisher that issues both our books. It all begins next Friday, January 18, with a talk at Kirkstall Abbey – a place with a very deep history of its own – on the Battle of Holbeck Moor, the incident which kicks off The Dead on Leave. My notes are already prepared…

There will be one more book to come this year, out at the end of September. It’s the sequel to The Hanging Psalm, and it’ll be called The Hocus Girl. Here’s a taste…


The man uncurled his fist to show the pocket watch. Candlelight reflected and shimmered on the gold.

‘Open it up,’ Simon Westow said.

Inside the cover, an inscription: From Martha to Walter, my loving husband.

‘See?’ the man said. ‘The real thing, that is. Proper gold. Keeps good time and-’

The knife at his throat silenced him.

‘And it was stolen three days ago,’ Simon said. He held the blade steady, stretching the man’s skin without breaking it. ‘Where’s the rest?’ With a gentle touch, he lifted the watch out of the man’s palm and slipped it into his pocket. ‘Well?’

‘Don’t know.’ The man gasped the words. His head was pushed back against the wall, neck exposed. ‘I bought it from Robby Barstow.’

‘When?’ A little more pressure, enough to bring a single drop of warm blood.

‘Last night.’

The man’s eyes were wide, pleading, the whites showing. It was the truth. He was too terrified to lie.

‘Then you’d best tell Robby I’m coming for him.’

‘What-’ His eyes were wide, pleading.

‘-about the watch?’

‘Yes.’ He breathed out the word, trying not to move at all.

‘Consider it a bad investment.’

Outside, he blinked in the light. A coach rumbled past on the Head Row, the driver trying to make good time on his way to Skipton.

Simon would hunt for Barstow later. The watch was the important item; Walter Haigh was desperate to have it returned, a gift from his late wife. He’d promised a fine reward.

That was what a thief-taker did. Find what had been stolen and return it for a fee.


2019…maybe it’s going to be a good year for us all.

The Holy City: An Annabelle Harper Story

Leeds, Summer 1898


No rest for the wicked, Annabelle Harper thought as she picked up the post. A card on top with a view of Masham. Jotted on the back: Staying here tonight. There’s a brewery, it smells like when I worked at Brunswick’s! Beautiful weather, we’ll come home brown as berries. Love, Tom. And underneath, in a careful hand: And Mary.


She smiled and placed it on the mantlepiece with the other two. One a day, exactly as he’d promised. High summer, 1898, and her husband had taken their daughter on holiday to the Dales. He had a week’s leave, school had finished. But no chance for a Poor Law Guardian to take a little time away.

Three people had needed assistance yesterday, two the day before, five on Monday. That was always the worst day. Wages spent, everything worth even a couple of pennies hauled off to the pawnshop. Some she’d been able to help. Others she’d had to turn away, hurting at the hopelessness on their faces. Things were always bad in Sheepscar. Worse in other parts of Leeds, she knew that. But a year of this work had shown her that not everything was possible. She’d learned to steel her heart; sometimes she had no choice.

But she was the won who’d wanted to run for the position. She’d won the vote, and now she had to do the job. A pile of papers sat on the table needing her attention. Reports from the workhouse, minutes from the last Guardians meeting. And barely a minute to read them. She glanced at the clock, then strode over to the mirror, pinning her hat in place before she wrapped a light shawl around her shoulders.

Downstairs, the bar at the Victoria was quiet. A couple of older men ekeing out the boredom of their days by playing game after game of dominoes and cribbage while they sipped at halves of mild. A quick word with Dan the barman, a pull of the door and she came out into the clatter and din of Roundhay Road. Already warm, the sky hazy, the streets heavy with soot and dust and all the stink of industry.

Annabelle had barely started walking when a man called her name. She turned, seeing Reverend Fletcher hurrying to catch up to her. He looked like a figure of fun, a large man with a red, florid face above the dog collar and a belly that wobbled as he tried to move quickly. But he was a good soul, doing what he could to help the poor in his parish. She couldn’t help but have a soft spot for him.

‘Mrs. Harper. I’m glad I caught you.’ Just ten yards and he was already out of breath, she thought. He lifted his straw hat and panted.

‘Pleased to see you, too, Reverend. If there’s something you need, you’d better walk with me, I’m already late.’ She nodded towards the distance. ‘I’m due at the workhouse in a quarter of an hour.’

‘Of course.’

She kept a brisk pace, nodding at shopkeepers and folk she saw on the way to the junction with Enfield Street. He had to move quickly to keep pace.

‘There’s someone I’d like you to see, if you’d be so good,’ Fletcher said.

‘One of your flock? Is the family having money problems? Out of work?’

He hesitated before answering, just long enough to make her turn her head and stare.

‘No, it’s nothing like that. He’s only been in Leeds for a few weeks now, still has a pound to his name.’

She stopped, hands on her hips.

‘I don’t understand, then. What do you need with a Guardian?’

‘He’s staying at the Vicarage. With his wife and children.’ A shy smile crossed Fletcher’s face. ‘If you could call around later. Just for a minute or two. I’d be very grateful.’

Annabelle narrowed her eyes. ‘You’re being very cagey. What’s it all about?’

Fletched tightened his mouth, then shook his head. ‘I’d rather you made up your own mind. Shall we say this afternoon?’ He raised his hat again, turned and strode away.

Always someone, she thought as the made her way through the back streets and up the hill to the workhouse.

annabellefrom book_3

By the time she walked back out into the air, she was fuming. The same thing as ever: the sheer ignorance of the male Guardians. No clue what women needed when they had their monthlies. Half of them probably didn’t even know such a thing existed; if they ever found out, they’d be terrified.

She breathed deeply, standing until she could feel the pounding in her chest slow down, then crossed the street to Beckett Street Cemetery. The only piece of green around here. A moment or two by Tom Maguire’s headstone, thinking of the man, wondering what he’d make of her now. Then to a bench that nestled in a spot of sunlight.

maguire stone

A few minutes and she was composed again, all the anger tamped down for another few days. Until the next time she visited.

Annabelle stood, dusted off her gown and started to walk home. A quick stop at a bakery for a tongue sandwich and a fancy to go with her tea later. It was only as she strolled down Rosebud Walk, brown paper bags in hand, that she remembered she’d agreed to go and see Reverend Fletcher’s visitor. Pushed into it, more like.

Well, that was the afternoon going through the pub accounts up the spout.

annabellefrom book_3

St. Cuthbert’s sat in the sun. The hall had been rebuilt after last year’s bomb. She only had to look at it to remember the noise that filled her head that evening, all the smoke, the stink of gunpowder, and the broken body of Mr. Harkness, the caretaker.


Annabelle straightened her shoulders, trying to put the past to the back of her mind, and brought her hand down on the knocker of the vicarage.

‘Hello, Mrs. Harper, luv,’ the housekeeper said with a warm smile. ‘He said you might be dropping in. Always a pleasure to see you.’

‘He asked me to come and meet your guest.’

‘Yes.’ The woman’s face clouded. ‘Well…’

‘A strange one?’ Annabelle asked.

‘You could say that.’ She frowned as stood aside, wiping her hands on her apron. ‘Come on through, luv. He’s in the back parlour.’

‘What about his wife and children?’

‘Child,’ the woman corrected her. ‘They’re out,’ she said darkly.

annabellefrom book_3

Annabelle blinked in the bright sunlight and started to walk down the street. She stopped, half-turned, then carried on towards home.

Well, she’d certainly never met anyone like that. Even when she was sitting upstairs at the Victoria with a cup of tea, she still didn’t have a clue what to make of him. Who on earth would walk all the way from London because God had told him to bring the light to the people of Leeds? If he’d come alone it would be bad enough, but to drag a wife and two-year-old boy with him…

annabellefrom book_3

His name was Harry Walton. He was small, shifty, not much to him, probably no taller than five feet three, skin and bone from weeks on the tramp. But there was an intensity to his eyes that worried her. In his voice, too. He spoke with the kind of certainty she’d heard before in con men with something to sell. But he didn’t seem to want anything.

‘Leeds is the holy city. The Lord told me that.’ He stared straight at her as her spoke, unblinking behind his spectacles.

‘The holy city?’ Annabelle asked. ‘What’s that supposed to mean? I’ve lived here all my life. Take it from me, there’s nothing holy about it.’

‘The people here will be saved if they rid themselves of evil. God told me. That’s why He sent me here, to reform them.’

Round and round for more than half an hour, until she felt overwhelmed, her head spinning.

‘What about your family?’ she asked finally.

‘They go where I go.’ He spoke the words with absolute finality, as if they’d been ordained. Maybe he believed they had.

Time to see about that, Annabelle thought as she finished the cup of tea and carried it through to the kitchen. See what the woman felt about it all. The pastry sat, barely touched on the plate. Too dry, no flake to the crust. If Mary had been here, she’d have wolfed it down. That girl had an appetite like a gannet.

annabellefrom book_3

This time the reverend answered the door himself. He looked surprised to see her, recovering his manners after a second.

‘Come in, Mrs. Harper. Come in. Forgive me, the housekeeper told me you were here this afternoon.’

‘I was,’ she answered with a soft smile. ‘I’ve come back to see the man’s wife.’

‘Ah,’ Fletcher said. ‘And what did you make of the gentleman?’

‘Honestly?’ she said. ‘Happen he believes everything he says. But holy city and cleansing the place, reforming it? I think he’s got something up his sleeve that we haven’t seen yet. Either that or he’s a bit touched.’

‘Men of God have often been viewed that way.’

‘Is that what you think he is?’ she asked.

Reverent Fletcher spread his hand, palms upwards.

‘I wish there was a way to know. But he’s right that we need to be rid of sin here, isn’t he?’

‘What? Like drinking?’ She had a twinkle in her eye. He knew exactly what she did for money.

He laughed. ‘Wine is there in the Bible, Mrs. Harper. Jesus even changed water into it at a wedding feast.’

‘He’d be welcome at the Victoria to do that any night he wants, although they’d prefer it was beer,’ she said, and suddenly realised she might have gone too far. ‘No offense, Reverend.’

‘None taken. I’ll have the lady attend you here, if that’s fine.’


One minute stretched to two, then five, before the door opened and the woman entered.

Not a woman, Annabelle thought. A girl. She had to be thirty years younger than the man. Probably not a day over seventeen, looking shy and cowed.

‘Come on in and sit yourself down.’

Stick legs under a thin cotton dress. Boots with worn soles and woollen stockings she’d darned too many times. Hands as rough as sandpaper.

‘I’m Mrs. Harper. The Reverend asked me if I’d have a word with you and your husband.’ Not quite the truth, but close enough. ‘What’s your name?’


‘That’s a pretty name. I like that. My mother lumbered me with Annabelle. I’ve always thought it sounds like it should be the name for a flower.’

The girl was too timid to respond.

‘How long have you been married?’

‘Two years,’ Julia answered. ‘Just after Samuel was born. He’s my son.’ She had the same rounded London vowels as her husband, so strange and out of place. But there was nothing educated about either of them.

‘The reverend said you had a child. A bonny little lad, I bet.’

‘He is.’ Her face came alive. ‘He takes so much time. And he’s always so hungry.’

Annabelle smiled. ‘It doesn’t get any better. My daughter’s six and she has hollow legs.’ She paused for a second. ‘Do you mind if I ask your age, Julia?’

A small hesitation. ‘I’m nineteen.’

That was a lie, Annabelle thought, but she’d let it pass.

‘How do you like being on the tramp?’

‘I don’t.’ Her mouth turned down at the corners. ‘My feet hurt all the time. This is the best place we’ve been since we left London. But I know we’re going to have to find somewhere else soon.’

‘I came and talked to your husband this afternoon, but you and your lad were out. Taking a look around?’

The girl shook her head. ‘Harry sends us out to beg. He says a woman and child bring in more than a man.’

Well, she though, he might have his eyes set on a holy city, but he kept a thought for bringing in the brass.

‘Do you make much?’

‘No,’ she answered. ‘Most of the time a rozzer will come and move us on. I was arrested once, when we were in Birmingham.’ Her face fell at the memory. ‘Seven days of hard labour and they almost took Samuel away from me.’

‘You must love your husband to do all this.’

‘He says it’s a wife’s duty to obey. A woman has to follow a man’s desires.’ She sounded as if she was repeating words she’d heard far too often.

‘How did you end up marrying him? There’s…’

‘I know. He’s a lot older.’ The deadness came back to her. She looked around, as if someone else might have come in and be hiding in the corner, listening. ‘Harry used to play cards with my pa. They worked together.’ Annabelle felt the first prickle up her spine, the sense that she knew exactly what was coming. ‘My pa had a losing night, so he told Harry he could have a poke of me and they’d all be square.’

‘How old were you?’


‘What about your mam? Where was she?’

‘She left when I was ten,’ Julia said. Her shoulders slumped. ‘Everything was good when she was still there.’

‘You and Harry…’ Annabelle said.

‘He got me…’ She blushed and lowered her gaze. ‘My pa told him he had to marry me to make it right. And pay a him a…something, I don’t remember what.’

‘A dowry?’

‘Yes. I think that was it.’

Annabelle sat quietly, thinking, then asked: ‘Tell me something, luv. Are you happy with Harry?’

‘Happy?’ Julia said, as if she’d never heard the word before, never considered the idea.

‘Do you love him?’

She shook her head, moving it quickly from side to side like a little girl.

‘Not like I loved my mother.’ She leaned forward and her voice softened to a whisper. ‘He hurts me when we…you know… and he hits me if I do something he doesn’t like.’

So much for any kind of holy man. Had his feet near the devil, like so many of them.

‘What do you want? For you and little Samuel?’

‘Want?’ She frowned, confused. ‘I don’t know. No one’s ever asked me that before.’ A moment passed, then she started to answer, voice like a child wishing for the Christmas presents that would never arrive: ‘A place we didn’t have to leave. Enough to eat. Not to ache from walking all the time. Things to make Sammy smile.’

Hardly reaching for the moon. Things any mother wanted. Yet Annabelle knew half the women she saw every week didn’t have them. They turned up to see her, clutching their sorrows close, hiding the bruises they claimed came from walking into doors and filled with the same of asking for something.

Annabelle knew how she must appear to the girl. A grand lady in an elaborate frock and big hat. A Poor Law Guardian with all sorts of power. But Julia was a stranger here, lost in an unfamiliar place. A stranger in her own life, really. She’d never had a chance to grow up the way a child should.

‘Have you ever worked before? What can do you?’

‘I was in a match factory for two years. But it was making me ill so I had to stop. I kept being sick. My pa belted me for that. He didn’t see the use of me if I couldn’t bring in money.’

‘Anything else?’

She blushed hard and stared down at her feet again.

‘Harry had me on the game for a little while. I had to stop when I started to…’ She curved a hand around her belly.

‘I want to ask you something.’

‘You’ve already been asking me things, missus.’

‘I know, but this is…well,’ Annabelle smiled and softened her voice. ‘It won’t go past these four walls, word of honour. If you had your druthers, would you stay with him?’

The girl looked up, pain showing in her eyes.

‘What else could I do? There isn’t anywhere me and Sammy could go.’

‘If someone could find a place. Somewhere safe. Would you stay with him then?’

Julia didn’t hesitate. ‘No. But I can’t go back to my pa. I won’t do that.’

Of course not; he’d beat her and sell her all over again.

‘I know. Look, I can’t make you any promises, but let me see what I can do.’ She took out her purse and counted out three pennies. ‘You buy your little lad something with that. And don’t let your husband know you have it.’

‘I won’t, missus. I swear.’ She clutched the coins in her fist as if they were the most precious gift she’d ever been given. ‘Thank you.’

‘I’ll come and see you tomorrow.’

annabellefrom book_3

Reverend Fletcher closed the front door behind them, staring across at the church.

‘All this talk about the holy city,’ Annabelle began. ‘It’s a con. He’s no more got religion that I have.’

‘But…he sounds so sincere.’

‘That’s his game. Do you want to know the truth. He won that lass from her father in a card game, he’s had her out on the streets.’ She saw him wince. ‘He’s happy to have her and their lad out begging to support him. Does that sound like a man of God to you?’

‘No,’ Fletcher admitted. ‘I suppose I’m gullible. He must have seen it. But what do you want me to do? Throw them all out on the streets?’

‘Give me a day,’ she said. ‘I’ll see what I can come up with for her and the boy. But I’ll tell you this – I won’t lift a finger to help him. If I were you, once they’re gone, I’d toss him out on his ear. Let him find a proper job.’ Her face turned grim. ‘If he doesn’t, I’ll have one of Tom’s men run him in for vagrancy.’

annabellefrom book_3

An evening of bustling around, feeling like she was shuttling from pillar to post and back again. The books would have to wait for another day.

She didn’t sleep well, thrashing around and throwing the covers off in the summer heat. The bed felt too big without Tom here, and the morning was empty of all the bustle of her husband and Mary. Cooking breakfast just for herself seemed like a chore. It left her lonely. She rushed through it, washed the pots and was out of the door by seven. Another postcard from Middleham waiting on the mat. Home on Sunday written on the back. Not long now, she though as she put it in her reticule.

postcard middleham

The problem was finding a place for the girl and her son to live, and someone to look after the boy. There were jobs out there, maybe nothing much, but enough to keep body and soul together.

By dinnertime she’d talked herself hoarse, wheedled, pulled in favours from people she’d helped in the past. Finally she secured the offer of a room for Julia Walton and her son. Just for a month, but the woman in the house was willing to look after Samuel. That would give her the breathing space to find a job and come up with somewhere else to live.

Annabelle paid the month’s lodging. It seemed only fair. She was the one encouraging the girl to leave her husband; this might be enough to help her take that step. All too often she’d seen the way women with no money were too scared to go. God knew she couldn’t help them all, but even one…it was a start. Didn’t matter that she wasn’t from round here. Perhaps it was more important because she was a stranger in Leeds, with no family or friends to turn to. Being alone brought desperation.

One final stop. The tram down to Millgarth police station, a few words and a laugh with Sergeant Tollman on the desk, then through to see Inspector Ash. It seemed strange to see someone else behind her husband’s desk, as if he might never return, instead of due back in a couple of days. He rose, looking confused, as she entered the office.


‘Has something happened to the Superintendent?’

She ginned. ‘Don’t worry. You’re not likely to be stuck there past this week. I’ve come to ask a favour. Can you check the past of someone I met? He’s come from London…’

Home. She treated herself to a cup of tea and settled in the chair, unbuttoning her boots and wiggling her feet. Absolute. Just having the chance to sit, a few minutes to herself, seemed like luxury after all the rushing about.

Then the knock on the door, and a young bobby who’d hardly started to shave was standing there.

‘Inspector Ash asked me to bring you this and wait for a reply.’

‘Come in,’ Annabelle told him. ‘There’s still some left in the pot.’ He waited, shifting nervously from foot to foot, not daring to pour himself a cup of tea. ‘Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.’

She unfolded the note. Ash’s copperplate was a joy to read, so much better than her own scrawl.

Harry Walton has a record as long as your arm. Currently wanted in London for passing altered cheques. They asked if we could arrest him. Do you know where he is?

No wonder he’d wanted to vanish. She sat at the table, a piece of paper in front of her, and dipped her nib in the inkwell.

St. Cuthbert’s. Best if it’s first thing tomorrow morning.  He’d find out just how holy this city could be.

‘Give that to him with my thanks, will you?’

‘Yes, missus,’ the lad said, blushing as he corrected himself. ‘Mrs. Harper.’

annabellefrom book_3

The same room, the woman in the same thin, faded dress. The only difference was the boy sitting on the floor, spinning the reverend’s globe again and again, mesmerised by it.

‘That’s it,’ Annabelle said as she finished. ‘It’s yours if you want it.’

‘I don’t know what to say,’ Julia told her.

‘You don’t have to say a word. Just put your things in a bag and come with me.’

‘Why, though?’ She stared at Annabelle with suspicion. ‘Why me? Us.’

‘Because you need it. I know, there are plenty who do. All I did was talk to a few folk. It wasn’t much.’ She stood and held out her hand. ‘Ready?’

‘What about Harry?’

‘Believe me, you won’t need to worry about him.’

As the vicarage door closed behind them, the light was starting to drift from afternoon into evening.

‘I’m scared,’ Julia said. Samuel marched beside her, clutching tight to her fingers. ‘I’ve never had to look after myself before.’

‘Seems to me you’ve been doing that for most of your life,’ Annabelle told her. She looked down at the boy and stuck out her tongue until he giggled. ‘This time will be better.’


I hope you liked it. This story takes place the summer after the vents in The Tin God, and a year before The Leaden Heart (out next March).

Remember, books make great gifts, and I’ve had three out this year – The Tin God, The Dead on Leave, and The Hanging Psalm.




Breaking The Old Bonds

Fortunes could change quickly in Victorian England. In a single generation some men could leap beyond tradition. And some women could find power and independence.

It’s hardly a secret that most of my books are set in Leeds. But my family, on both sides, goes back generations here. Leeds and family are pretty much the same thing to me. But how did those ancestors of mine live?

Its turns out to be a question with a few surprising answers.

My great-great-great-great grandfather Isaac Nickson was born in 1785 and arrived in Leeds from Malton somewhere around 1826/7, with his wife Jane and six children (two more would be born here). In 1823 he’d been listed in the Malton trade directory as a butcher, with premises on Newbiggin, a trade he carried on in Leeds. How much he made of himself is debatable, at least from his shifting addresses: East Bar, a shop and house on Timble Bridge, 43, Marsh Lane, Garland’s Fold. By 1840, Jane had left him, moving to Rothwell with two of his daughters.



                          By Timble Bridge, late 19th century

1841 census_1

But things grow more interesting with the next generation.

Of his five sons, four became painters and paper hangers. It was a theme that would continue for some of the men into the 20th century. Others had similarly unskilled occupations – heeler and boot repair, tailor’s cutter. Poor men, in other words. My father and his brother were the first to have secondary education, in the 1920s, purely because they won scholarships.

Isaac’s oldest son, also named Isaac (b.1815), and younger brother George (b.1820), were in business together, with premises in Birch’s Yard, 4, Lowerhead Row, advertising themselves as House and Sign Painters, Paper Hangers, Marble Painter Manufacturers.

1848 Issac and George

George, who married Mary Caroline Hewson (known as Caroline) in 1839, was at Crimble Row, close to Camp Road.

crimble street

Crimble Row, 20th century

Another brother, William Isaac (b.1824), was also a painter, as was youngest sibling, John (b.1827), who lived first on Lower Brunswick Street, then Vandyke Street, off Regent Street, and had his premises at Ship Inn Yard, off Briggate

ship inn yard

Ship Inn Yard

George and Isaac seemed to go their separate ways before George’s death in 1867. Caroline took over George’s business, very rare for a woman in those days, and in the 1871 census she’s shown as employing seven men and two boys – obviously a successful woman. She was living at 200, North Street, and had one servant, 15-year-old Elizabeth Strafford. George was buried at Beckett Street Cemetery, plot 5932. In 1877, Caroline married George Heuthwaite, a widower of Hunslet Road who made his living as a dyer, and she died in Hunslet 20 years later.

birchs yard

Entrance to Birch’s Yard on left, past Dobson’s

Caroline 1868

caroline 1871

North Street

North Street

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Gravestone for George and Caroline’s son, Thomas. Beckett St. Cemetery

Caroline’s son, Robert Hewson Nickson, probably took over the business and made it pay well, with premises in Lonsdale Yard on the Lowerhead Row (later known as Bradley’s Yard).

robert lonsdale

lonsdales yard

Lonsdale Yard

On his death in 1893 he left £331 19s 5d over £40,000 in today’s money, a staggering figure for a working-class man. Yet they still lived in an ordinary terraced house on Stamford Street, although they had a servant, Edith K. Simmons, aged 12.

stamford street

Stamford Street

In 1901, Robert’s widow, Clara, is listed as a painter and decorator, so she took over the business, although two years later she’d sold it and had a boot making business on Roundhay Road.


Isaac obviously as well as his brother, because in 1868, still living on Wade Lane, he was on the electoral roll, owning property worth more than £50, a large amount. In these days of a universal franchise, it’s difficult to believe how restricted the vote was in the 19th century.

Isaac voter 1868

wade street

Wade Street, 20th Century

Isaac Jr.’s son William Robert was yet another painter. Born in 1837, he learned the trade properly, and the 1861 census lists him as a journeyman painter, so he’d obviously completed his apprenticeship. At that point he was living on Wade Street with his father (although in the census he’s shown as a servant, strangely, and his uncle William is also shown there, again as a servant, although he has his own census listing with his family on Elm Street). But by 1868, he, too, was on the electoral roll.

1861 census2

WR voter 1868

William Robert had his business premises in Wheatsheaf Yard, off Briggate.

entrance to wheatsheaf yard

Entrance to Wheatsheaf Yard

FullSizeRender (10)

Grave of William Robert and three of his children, Beckett Street Cemetery

He died in 1890, but the 1891 census shows his widow Anna (or Hannah) Elizabeth living on the very respectable Ramsden Terrace and running the painting and decorating business – not bad for someone, it was noted, who could not write.


ramsden terrace top of pic

Ramsden Terrace at top of picture

Her son (yet another Isaac) lived with her, following in his father’s footsteps as a painter and decorator.

These are just a few instances, of course. But they show that in Victorian Leeds, it was possible for working men to make the leap across the class barrier to wealth and property. Yet what strikes me as remarkable is the fact that not once, but three times, women took over the businesses, and very male businesses at that. They didn’t give up, didn’t immediately sell them off. And they did it all successfully. In a time when that wasn’t a woman’s role, they showed that women could do it, and do it well. It was possible, for some, to transcend their origins and traditional roles.

Of course, not all the brothers did so well. William Isaac, my great-great-great grandfather, married Charlotte Berry in 1844. They had two children, John William and Martha, and lived on Elm Street, just off York Road in the Bank.

elm street

1871 census

William died in 1883, with no money for a funeral, not even enough for a guinea grave. He’s buried in an unmarked plot at Beckett Street Cemetery. Charlotte moved in with Margaret and her husband in Louisa Street in Hunslet. She died in 1889, and is also buried in a pauper’s grave at Beckett Street.

So, to those who have occasionally expressed surprise that Annabelle Harper in my Victorian series of books would be able to run a business so well, all I can say is that the precedent is right there. No wonder I see it as natural; it’s in the family.

All street images from Leodis.

So Who Is Annabelle Harper?

Annabelle Harper has really stepped into the limelight with The Tin God. It’s interesting that many reviewers and readers have seen it as her book, rather than a Tom Harper crime novel.

She’s been there all through the series of course. But for those who don’t know about her past, a little piece of fiction to very quickly tell her story…

Leeds, 1898

Annabelle Harper dusted the mantelpiece. By rights it needed doing every day, but she didn’t have the time. Running the Victoria public house downstairs, her work as a Poor Law Guardian and having a six-year-old daughter took up every waking hour. And with her husband being a Detective Superintendent, there was no knowing when he’d be at home.


Leeds. It got everywhere. Soot and grit on the windowsills, in the carpets, in the air…it was a losing battle to keep anything clean. Hang out the washing and it was covered in smuts by the time you took it in.

That was the price for prosperity, people said. Maybe they were right. But there was precious little wealth in Sheepscar, just people doing their best to survive, and plenty going under. Yet folk believed the lies, and the ones who told them grew richer.

She picked up the photograph in the silver frame, wiped it carefully, then held it at arm’s length and studied it. How long since she’d really looked at those faces. There she was, carefully posed, back straight as she sat in the chair, wearing the first expensive gown she’d ever owned, her face so young and serious. Standing behind her, one hand resting on her shoulder, Harry Atkinson, her first husband. Much older, the usual twinkle in his eye hidden as he stared seriously at the camera. Thirteen years he’d been gone now. She still thought about him, but only from time to time these days; he seemed like someone from another life. Well, he was, she told herself with a smile, he was. But a good life. Without him, she’d never have had all this. She’d never have met Tom Harper and never have had Mary. You never knew, she thought. You never knew what life was going to do.

Odd flashes of those times ran through her mind. Harry and his wife Elizabeth taking her on as a servant. Elizabeth dying of cancer, vanish right in front of them, inch by inch. The strange courtship she had with Harry, the quick honeymoon in Scarborough, the first time she’d ever seen the sea. The way he taught her how to run a business and how she surprised herself by having a knack for it.

Harry was older, he had a good thirty years older, a man who look at life with his eyes wide open. He’d prepared her for when he’d be gone. And then it happened. Quietly, in his sleep. As soon as Annabelle woke, she knew the life had gone from him. She reached over and stroked his cheek.

‘Oh, you,’ she said as she started to cry. ‘Oh, you.’

The only thing she remembered with absolute clarity preparing for the funeral. The casket was already in the hearse. She just had a few minutes alone up here with his ghost.

Staring at the mirror. The way the light flickered in the gas mantle, reflecting in the jet buttons of her dress. In black, from head to toe. Even the lace and the petticoats and the new leather boots that pinched her feet.

She’d picked the funeral hat off the back of the chair and arranged it on her head, spreading the veil in front of her face. Her hand was raised, ready to pin it all in place, when she tore it off and sent the hat spinning across the room.

She turned to the photograph on the mantelpiece. A shiny silver frame. Herself, sitting with her husband’s hand on her shoulder. Mr. and Mrs. Atkinson.

‘You sod,’ she said quietly. ‘You bloody sod.’

No hand to steady her now.

They’d all be waiting downstairs in the pub. Harry’s sister and her children, Dan the barman, the two servants, and all the neighbours and friends from round Sheepscar. The hearse was outside, the horses with their sober ebony plumes.

She breathed deeply, gathered up the hat and set it in place again, hearing the footsteps on the stairs, then the tentative knock on the door.

‘Annabelle, are you ready, luv?’ Bessie, her sister-in-law. ‘Only it’s time.’

A last glance in the mirror and at the picture.

‘Yes,’ Annabelle Atkinson said. ‘I’m coming.’


A final swipe with the duster and she put the picture back on the mantelpiece, adjusting the angle once, twice, a third time until it seemed just right. She took a deep breath. Then she heard the small footsteps on the stairs and her daughter was shouting at the top of her lungs.

‘Mam, can you give me a hand?’

She shook her head, putting all the past behind her again.

‘Yes,’ Annabelle Harper said. ‘I’m coming.’

annabellefrom book_3

The Tin God is out now in the UK, and on July 1 elsewhere. I hope you’ll buy it – and please, leave a review somewhere. It all helps.

Thank you.

The Reality Of Victorian Leeds

I write crime novels set in Leeds. Historical crime.

That’s hardly a revelation, I know.

The crimes are the spine of my books. But I try to put a little more meat on the bones. The relationships between the characters and the changing face of Leeds itself.

It fascinates me, I try to make it a character in itself, and I find it vitally important. Nowhere is that change more apparent than in the late Victorian series with Detective Superintendent Tom Harper and his wife Annabelle

He’s grown up with the changes in Leeds. By 1890, when Gods of Gold is set, the first organised slum clearance was already underway, a number of the yards and courts between Briggate and Lands Lane already demolished to make way for Thornton’s Arcade and Queens Arcade. Before that, things had simply gown in the space, the original plots built over, the poor crammed away, out of sight.

duftons yard

Many of the places where he’d walked a beat when he started out as a constable had vanished by the time he was a Detective Inspector. The city – and it did finally become a city in 1893 – had a better water supply, the laws across England had changed to give children a little more education before they were sent out to work (although families still had to pay for any secondary education, something most could afford). That same year, Leeds was described as “a great hive of workers…whose products have the whole wide world for their market…her nine hundred factories and workshops, monuments of the wealth, industry and mercantile prestige.”

The workers who created those products saw little of that wealth, of course. They worked long hours for very little money. Few benefits, and any semblance of compassion depended on the owners of the factories. Between them textiles and engineering employed around have the workforce in Leeds – men and women.

It was a place with 23 tanneries and 200 cabinet makers. Leeds was changing, but for many, that change was happening slowly. Not many years before, 50 dead animals were pulled out of the river every single day. A Royal Commission heard that “hundred and thousands of tonnes per annum of ashes, slag, cinders, refuse from mines, chemical works, dyeing, scouring and fulling, worsted and woollen stuff, shin cleaning and tanning, slaughter, house garbage and sewerage from towns and houses” ended up in the Aire. Only around 3,000 houses in Leeds had flushing water closets. For everyone else, there was the midden.

cherry tree yard

That was the reality of the Leeds Tom and Annabelle Harper knew as they grew up, even when they were adults. The grand buildings – the Town Hall, the Corn Exchange –  might have been the public face of Victorian prosperity. Peek behind the curtain, though, and the reality, quite literally, stank.

No surprise, perhaps, that contagious diseases were rife. People died of typhus, whooping cough, diptheria, smallpox, diarrhoea – things we barely recognise today. Advances in public health, in sanitation and some of the housing were greatly lowering those figures by 1890, but they still existed.

A new Leeds was beginning to emerge. But it would still take many years to finally arrive.

The average wage for workers was a little over £42 a year by 1900, up from £34 in 1874. That’s an average; many, especially in unskilled jobs would earn much less, and women far, far less. Half the country’s income was taken home by one-ninth of the population, the kind of disparity still prevalent today.

The cost of living for the working-class is perfectly encapsulated in the broadside ballad “How Five-And-Twenty Shillings Are Expended In A Week”. It’s humorous, but it makes its point sharply. So many people lived hand-to-mouth. Every week, every month, every year.

five and twenty

The very poor relied on outdoor relief (benefits) or the workhouse when they couldn’t look after themselves or their children. That’s the world Annabelle sees when she runs to be a Poor Law Guardian in The Tin God, the sixth book in the series. From 1873-1896, there had been a global economic depression, felt hard in Britain, especially in the industrial centres of the North. Poverty was rife, competition for jobs.

This was their Leeds, their reality. I’m still trying to grasp its essence. Maybe one day I’ll succeed.